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Opinions of Friday, 4 April 2014

Columnist: Asare, Kwaku S.

Let us also keep the Peace in our Toilets

S. Kwaku Asare

On April 2nd 2014, Dr. H. K. Wampah, the Governor of Bank of Ghana, announced that the country’s domestic debt, which stood at Gh?10 billion at the end of 2008, had ballooned to Gh?56 billion. In just the first two months of 2014, the debt stock increased by a staggering Gh?2 billion. Nevertheless, the Central Bank guru declared that “the debt situation is not bad. It is the trajectory and how quickly it is growing that we need to look at. 50 or 55 percent is not entirely out of this world.” (see http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/artikel.php?ID=305135).

Meanwhile, on the other side of High Street, Defence Minister Woyongo was in Parliament seeking a new loan of $300 million to procure equipment for our external peacekeeping activities. Under the terms of this proposed new loan, the government will pay $5 million to the facilitator of the loan and another $6 million to the manager of the loan. The interest rate on the loan is 7% and the loan is due in three years. In response to questions about the unreasonable terms of the loan, the minister is reported to have said, “$300 million is not big money; it might even not be enough because we are operating in many countries and we need to buy helicopters, arms and others.” (see http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/artikel.php?ID=305132).

On the same day that the Governor and the Minister made their declarations, the results of a survey conducted in public schools were released (see http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/artikel.php?ID=305036). Inter alia, the survey revealed the following:

1. 10,000 of the 20,000 public schools in Ghana do not have toilet facilities.
2. Students in these Non-Toilet League Schools (NTLS) use the bush for toilet purposes.
3. Many girls miss 5 days of school every month (when they are in their period) because of the lack of toilet facilities.
4. The toilet facilities in the Toilet League Schools (TLS) are dilapidated.
5. Whether using toilets or the bush, toilet users have no access to water and soap to wash their hands.

Daily, of course, we are reminded of the consequences of the toilet access problem. It is less than a month ago that an SHS teacher fell into the school’s dilapidated maggot-infested school (see http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/regional/artikel.php?ID=302665). We learnt that the toilet facility in that school can “only accommodate few people at a time” and “serves both teachers and students of the whole school with a population of over 900.” The facility has just one entry door with the single female and male compartments close to each other.” Just before Christmas 2013, one Kwabena Nkrumah had a rude shock when a snake bit his penis while attending to nature’s call (http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/regional/artikel.php?ID=294628).

It is important to remember that the toilet problem is not limited to schools. According to a World Bank study, about 4.8 million Ghanaians have no latrines at all and defecate in the open (bush, sea, gutters, etc.). Moreover, 16 million Ghanaians use unsanitary or shared latrines. That study estimates that poor toilet facilities cost the country a whopping $290 million annually (in the form of premature deaths, healthcare costs, access time costs and productivity losses). Moreover, as the study notes, this figure likely underestimates costs such as funeral expenses, epidemic outbreak costs, water pollution and the negative effect on our collective cognitive developments (see http://www.zaragoza.es/contenidos/medioambiente/onu/825-eng-v5.pdf). In any case, the perpetuity present value of the toilet problem, at a discount rate of 10%, is $2.9 billion.

While there seems to be no interest in addressing the toilet crisis, the government seems rather quick to “flush money down the toilet.” For instance, the country has paid a commitment fee and continues to service a $3 billion loan from the China Development Bank, even though only $600 million of the so called loan has been released. Even more worrying, the President does not appear to have any strategy for reversing the situation and has resorted to photo-ops and mindless appeals to the Chinese foreign minister (see http://www.myjoyonline.com/business/2014/January-10th/expedite-action-on-release-of-chinese-loan-mahama.php).

This takes me back to the nation’s external peacekeeping activities. It is, of course, noble and our responsibility as part of the human family to help keep the peace in troubled areas. But it is my contention that our toilets are now war zones. Therefore, let us redirect our personnel, energies and funds to keep the peace in our toilets!